HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)- Most students in Alabama learn about the Trail of Tears. It was the forced removal of native people from the southern United States in the 1830s. What most of them are not taught is one of the driving factors for the removal.
"There was kind of this backstory to it, which involved the gold rush," said Kelly Fisk with Burritt on the Mountain.
That gold rush isn't the one in the late 1840s in California that gave rise to the name "forty-niners." Alabama had its own gold fever 29 years earlier in the late 1820s into the late 1830s.
"They actually found a good bit of gold here," said Fisk. "It continued throughout the 1830s. 1836 was the biggest gold year for Alabama. It was actually the record year in Alabama."
The gold rush began in Georgia and you may have heard about it without even knowing it. The Georgia gold rush was centered around Dahlonega, Georgia. If you've ever been to Six Flags Over Georgia, then you may have ridden the Dahlonega Mine Train roller coaster.
People from Georgia know about the Georgia gold rush because it's part of Georgia history," said Fisk. " But in Alabama, we don't ever hear about it."
People in Alabama certainly never learn of its connection to the "Trail of Tears." The forced removal of native people from both Alabama and Georgia was fueled largely by gold rush.
"The Cherokee's called the Gold Rush the great intrusion. Because they immediately recognized this as thousands of people rushing on to their land and it really fed the conflict that was already going on."
Once the native people were forced out of the state and relocated to Oklahoma, (many hundreds of them did not survive the trip) miners flooded into the state.
"One of the biggest gold producing counties was Chilton County," said Fisk. "Tallapoosa also was a big gold area. Really Gadsden, south to Montgomery there was a zone there where there was quite a bit of gold found."
By the late 1840s, the gold had pretty much played out. Fisk says when miners in Alabama and Georgia heard about the gold finds in California, they packed up and headed west. Alabama's brush with gold was over. But, its native people had paid a very high price.
You can learn more about Alabama's Gold Rush at Burritt on the Mountain. The exhibit, "Treasure Hunt at Gold Mountain," will run for the next month.